The Soup Method For Building Teams

Cooking inspires my appreciation for developing people and businesses. It is a beautiful example of transforming finite ingredients into endless possibilities that create memorable experiences. Even the most basic techniques can provide several lifetimes of sustenance and are open to creative interpretation.

Here is a story I found that  correlates well with building teams

In a land and time far away…

A couple of travelers from a foreign land came across a village and asked residents for a simple meal and a place to stay for the evening, but got rejected every time. As the sun set, the travelers built a small campfire in the square and placed a pot of water with a few stones to cook. 

One by one, villagers approached and asked about the contents. The travelers answered each villager the same way, “Traditional stone soup from our homeland. It is amazing! We are happy to share a bowl with you, if you make a contribution – even if it is merely some scraps of onion, bits of carrots, or ends of potatoes.”

As the evening went on, more and more villagers were intrigued and added something to the pot until one of the travelers decided it was ready, and began sharing with all who contributed. A brilliant meal was enjoyed and the travelers were asked to visit the village on their return.

The beauty of the soup analogy is that each ingredient remains itself – potatoes are still potatoes – yet they also absorb aspects of everything else as they blend and meld together. Here are a couple of ways you can use this recipe to build your teams.

Step 1: Take complete inventory.

We are rarely given absolutely ideal circumstances when putting together our teams. Accept the situation as it is right now and start working with what you have to make it better. Look at everything and everyone with the perspective that they can somehow add to the solution.

Your minuscule budget, rapid deadline, high expectations, and any other challenge are merely design constraints that we must work through. Used properly, pressure, creativity, passion, and purpose are often precisely what is needed to complete the goal. Throw out assumptions and preconceived notions as they only make experiences bitter.

Explore the hidden talents among co-workers; a receptionist with art skills; a clerical intern with a knack for building and construction; the programmer who used to be a teacher; and the new guy in sales with a photography hobby. These under-utilized skills build personal connections and are often vast resources waiting to be tapped.

Seek opportunities to create intrigue and interest. A curious buzz or well-managed rumor are ways to get the ‘informal, yet established’ systems working in your favor.

Step 2: Provide a safe place to collaborate.

Creative ideas, whims, suggestions, skills, and passions (especially ones we keep to ourselves) are often attached to very delicate emotions. Typical business meetings are filled with power plays, role expectations, and egos that often prevent people from speaking up and offering new ideas.

Find ways people can invest almost imperceptible amounts. To reduce the ‘threshold of contribution’; establish an environment free of judgment, authority, status, position, and where everyone is of equal importance. It often helps to host meetings in a somewhat unconventional place or time – an outdoor courtyard, off-site meeting room, at 10:00pm, in someone’s home, etc.

In highly effective teams; solutions and decisions are never one-dimensional. They are the result of carefully analyzing, discussing, arguing, and enhancing the contributions by everyone. Strength comes from everyone’s voice coming together, not from one voice that silences others.

Step 3: Be open to the various contributions of others.

One of the biggest reasons people leave jobs/employers is because they feel they are not heard, valued, or appreciated. Whatever they give, be grateful, accept the gift, and find some way to make it useful.

It may look like scraps, leftovers and broken pieces; but these are far better than nothing at all. Accept everything but blame and excuses. Perfectionists can take a lesson from artists and ‘hackers’ who simply create solutions out of what is available. Follow-up versions are where we move towards perfection and scale.

People are full of passions, ideas, and experiences – these benefits may be hidden behind some defense mechanisms. Leadership is about finding these qualities and learning how to work with them to produce great results. In food as well as teams, superstars are only made by those who lift them on their shoulders.

You likely have to bear through some tears as you chop an onion; but when cooked, those same chemicals that make us cry are converted into complex sweetness that can’t be replaced.

Step 4: Share it with others. 

Openly share the possibilities, responsibilities, resources, gains, glory, challenges, and ALL information. Make sure everyone understands the value of their contribution. Teams are built on trust, and transparency is one of the easiest ways to establish a strong foundation.

Leadership is one of the most important things to share with a team. It is an opportunity for people to observe and actively develop their own skills. This simple gesture can positively change their entire career while cementing your leadership skills as well.

Our traveling friends were hungry and wanted a meal for themselves. In offering to share with all who contributed, they were able to accomplish much more. Some say this is how we got the ‘Pot Luck’ style of dining/catering. Everyone brings something and leaves with plenty.

Like other timeless recipes, its simplicity can be misleading. Though the basic recipe might be followed each time, there will always be variety in the end result.

 

I invite you to connect with me or start a conversation about how to build better teams. We can arrange workshop around a cooking demo/meal.

Productivity vs Profitability

Businesses today operate with remarkable similarity to how they did more than 250 years ago. It made absolute sense to relate productivity to time (units/hours) solely because it was so much easier to work during daylight hours. But that was before things like electricity, telecommunications, automobiles, computers, and the internet.

As the multitude of technological advances became prominent fixtures in business of all types, the standard of productivity has remained in place, though it is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Many tasks that used to take days, weeks, or months now just take a couple minutes or hours. The increased speed also brings increased reliability, predictability, and value.

Our fascination with maximizing our productivity might actually be hindering our profitability in more ways than billings-per-hour! It minimizes our time for crucial planning, practice, and preparation while making almost zero time for mistakes, prevention, or maintenance.

Planning

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

The sophisticated coordination and scheduling of resources is critical to every project’s success. It is a highly imaginative process (where many details can be anticipated with high degrees of accuracy) that is as crucial to completion as showing up in the first place. While some tend to be naturally pre-disposed to this type of thinking; we can all improve with good experience and exposure. Another way to increase productivity is for everyone involved to be intimately involved with the planning.

Organizations should spend more time actively planning rather than merely being ‘being productive’.

Rehearsal

When we look at actors (many earning a lifetime of income per appearance) we see they spend far more time rehearsing and conditioning than they do in actual performance or production mode.

Rehearsal allows us to stop, try again, and proceed with varying paces to build enough connections between performer and performance. This facilitates the kind of deep learning that is the foundation for transformational growth. It is the safe environment where we can try new things, push limits, and make mistakes.

Organizations focused on growth should build environments and systems where high performers can rehearse and improve their skills.

Preparation

Before any actor takes the stage, they first go through wardrobe and make-up as they become the character they will portray.

The transformation time is critical to a great performance. Whatever our chosen profession, we also have obligations to friends and family outside of work that are likely more important to us. A daily commute is hardly enough or ideal time to switch between modes. Preparation is when where we gather and inspect our tools, inventory supplies, and focus on our upcoming tasks. It is both physical and mental activity.

The more valuable or critical the work, the more we tend to appreciate the preparation that goes into it.

Relationships

Working with other human beings means building and maintaining dynamic relationships. Without these, teamwork is next to impossible, and we also miss out on the synergistic benefits that come from collaborations.  Working together as a cohesive team constantly drives effectiveness and efficiencies, but they take time to build.

Organizations that invest in building and maintaining relationships among team members benefit tremendously over those that do not.

Planning, rehearsal, preparation, and relationships are pre-cursors to great productivity. They make it possible to shatter records and bring new levels of productivity we previously only imagined.

Google famously encourages employees to spend 20% of their time working on something that fascinates or excites them. The opportunities to do this not only builds intricate webs of strong personal relationships between individuals, it is also one of the biggest driving forces behind their growth through new products, features, endeavors, and so-called ‘moonshots’.

 

 

Drop me a line if you are interested in discovering ways your organization can grow while escaping the dated ‘productivity’ cycle.

Culture: Your MVP for Growth

Let me begin with this. Humans are social, intelligent, dynamic, learning, caring, resourceful, and reactive beings who are strongly inclined to make emotional connections and associations with others. We are driven by some sense of togetherness. It is one of the things that has allowed our species to thrive on this planet.

We need culture in nearly every aspect of our lives!

Yet businesses continue operate on a different mindset and rely heavily on various ‘carrot and stick’ approaches to management.

Here is what that produces:
A recent survey conducted by LinkedIn reveals that 64.7% or professionals claim they decline job offers, projects, and promotions if they don’t know, or do not agree with their culture. 52% of them claim to be actively looking for employment with places that align with their own beliefs.

The Gallup Organization has formally been studying and monitoring employee engagement since 2000 and estimate a low engagement contributes to a negative impact of over $400Billion in the US alone.

Despite this information, thousands more reports, articles, consultancies, and resources being available; nearly 80% of companies to not have a formal strategy regarding their culture.

Building a thriving culture comes down to formalizing three simple ideas with absolute clarity, dedication, consistency, and transparency.

Mission:

This is the WHAT that you are doing, assigning, targeting, or building. It is as much about the macro, big-picture notions as it is about the micro, daily details and tasks. Everyone remotely related to the process should know and be excited about the mission to which they are contributing.

Values:

These are the beliefs, attitudes, and actions that are important, supported, accepted, tolerated, and inexcusable. These five distinct lists are more important than any specific mission because when people come together based on values, they will almost effortlessly adapt or completely change the what if it doesn’t align with their shared beliefs.

Purpose:

This refers to the WHY that inspires us to contribute, and sometimes contribute our very best. It can be aimed towards a social endeavor or problem, supporting a non-profit cause, community, environmental, technological, artistic, entertainment, religious, fun/adventure, or be purely altruistic/philanthropic. It can be anything besides ‘making money’, growing, selling products, increasing profits, or any similar ilk.

Bringing clarity and sharing your MVP is the foundation of your culture. It also allows people to build emotional connections to it. These emotional connections are THE MOST IMPORTANT thing you can build. They will be created whether you focus on them or not. The difference is in the number and strength of those that support your growth efforts.

Here are a couple ways your culture determines your growth.

Talent attraction:

Because of the interconnectedness of humanity (as in the six decrees of separation concept), your current workforce is likely already connected to the next 2 rounds of talent you need to hire. Social media sites (LinkedIn is most powerful) help facilitate and visualize these connections if we use them properly. The missing factor is your culture.

Your employee Bill has a great friend named Suzan, whom you want to hire. It is very likely that Bill is in one of the groups at the top of article who is not aligned with the company, and will try to dissuade Suzan from leaving her current position even though it pays 20% less.

The opposite is also true. Suzan absolutely loves where she is working, so much that it always shows up in her smile – even in the carpool line where she and Bill regularly talk as they wait to pick up their children. Her attitude is infectious and makes Bill wonder if the extra money is worth the headaches of his culture.

The situation of Bill and Suzan occurs thousands of times every day and has likely already happened to your company on more than one occasion. In her role as Development Engineer, she developed breakthrough products for your competition. Remember, we are hiring humans. Emotional connections are crucial!

Customer attraction:

Rebekah is looking for a new car. She talks with friends about what they drive, how they like it, and service it needs. Though all of her friends can easily afford the purchase of new cars, Ramon still drives one that he has had for 15 years, and he loves it.

She had previously never considered that brand because she never heard any stories. Because Ramon (not a car salesman, employed, or affiliated by the brand) was the only one of her friends who displayed any passion for the car he drove, she went for a test drive and was comfortable making a $50,000 purchase. Her other friends talked about the next car they were thinking about buying because they were bored, unimpressed, or frustrated with their current one.

The situation of Rebekah and Ramon also happens thousands of times daily. The purchase had almost nothing to do with marketing budgets, the dealership price, or salesperson’s skill. Remember, all purchases are made by humans. Emotional connections are crucial!

 

Culture impacts marketing more than most budgets do and it comes into play in all industries and price points. It is time to invest into understanding and shaping your culture so that it becomes the MVP of your growth. Feel free to connect with me to start a conversation about it.

Four Keys to Building Trust

There are millions of books and articles written about the value of trust and how to build it. More are produced every year. In spite of this, it seems people in roles of marketing, sales, and leadership find themselves challenged in how to build trust in their roles.

I offer four simple concepts that have been effective throughout my life and career. These concepts are as easy to do as they are to ignore. Just writing them to share today is part of me renewing my commitment to them.

Keep Your Promises:

Do what you say and say what you’ll actually be doing. It sounds simple enough, but I know from personal experience that it can be easy to say what people want to hear. Early in my sales career I thought I wanted to be known as agreeable and accommodating. In my eagerness to please potential customers, I would agree to requests (discounts, expedited delivery, rushed production, etc.) that lead me to a couple situations where I couldn’t keep my promises – making the reputation and the deal backfire on me.

One of my solutions was to reserve blocks of time where I would make sales calls/presentations. And reserve other blocks of time to make good on my promises. During calls, I would write down all the things I said I would do and schedule a deadline verbally with them – “I’ll have that information to you on Thursday by at noon.” One of my favorite ‘keep promises’ blocks was Thursday mornings.

As I got more comfortable in my system, I learned how powerful this was at establishing trust with clients and prospects. Phase two of it was to ask busy owners when and how they wanted to have certain information presented to them (email, phone call, visit/meeting, etc.) so I could schedule each one as an appointment on my calendar.

Communicate Openly, Truthfully, and Timely:

If doing things the right way were easy, they wouldn’t call it ‘the right way’. It is not easy to bring up difficult situations, especially when it makes you look bad. When we look at mistakes and errors as opportunities to learn, improve, or impress; we can begin to understand their true power.

There is an adage that tells us, “not making mistakes means you aren’t trying hard enough.” You’ll earn more trust by pushing the envelope at the right place and pace. When errors happen, own them. Communicate proactively and quickly.

Not that I liked having my orders get messed up, or I liked calling clients to report a problem; but the results were always positive when these situations were followed in this manner.

Act Consistently With Beliefs:

The phrase, action speaks louder than words remains true, but it overlooks the synergies created by actions and words supporting each other. This is more important in today’s age of social media and the variety of ways we are represented digitally because each profile offers a history of our interactions.

Potential employers, employees, customers, partners, investors, board members, and more look to social media to form opinions about a company, its products, leadership, and culture. We want to engage with businesses and people who are aligned with our beliefs. Credibility is built on ALL of our actions, not just when we are face to face.

Deliver More:

Add something more to what you do – a bonus, something extra, an unmistakable part of YOU. It could be a smile, hand written thank you note, or a comforting story about how you made the same mistakes they made. It can be reassurance, positive thought, sharing of your passion, or something creative. These gifts strengthen the relationships because they connect us on a emotional level beyond the scope of the transaction.

These gifts are more valuable than favors, chits, or I-owe-yous because they are volunteered and therefore not tabulated and tracked. This is exactly the type of human interactions that keep us together as groups, tribes, and even society itself.

 

These are not limited to business relationships. They can (and should) be applied to interactions with friends, family, volunteer opportunities, and romantic relationships with the same zeal and consistency.

Connecting Sales With Purpose

Sales as a career can indeed be noble. This is the position/department responsible for generating the revenue that essentially pays everyone’s salary – including the CEO.

Under ideal circumstances, it can be very lucrative as well as personally fulfilling (as you bring value to everyone involved). Too often, circumstances are less-than-ideal and this reveals the ugly, cutthroat, gimmicky, self-serving tendencies that push people away rather than build value.

One way to attract and bring out the best in sales professionals is to connect sales, marketing, and other revenue-generating activities with an authentic and consistent mission or purpose. This purpose can be either altruistic in nature (unselfishly giving to others) or it can be product/customer-focused. Both tend to bring about the same benefits when supported well.

Altruistic Purpose

Funding a non-profit organization that operates to benefit others is one of the easiest ways to align with a purpose as long as it is a noteworthy cause and an amount that is enough to do good and catch people’s attention.

Another way to align with an altruistic purpose is to commit your entire operations to it. TOMs Shoes provides one of the best examples with their One For One program. From their very beginnings, the company donates one pair of shoes for every pair they sell. This was a key element in their rapid growth in an already saturated space of footwear. They launched in May of 2006 and have already given over 60 million pairs of shoes!

Patagonia sportswear calls itself The Activist Company, and sells sustainable outdoor clothing. Their mission statement reads: Build the best products, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. It is easy to imagine that they are very active, and vocal about minimizing their environmental impact. They live and breathe their mission every day.

Once these principles are indoctrinated into the books, operations, and cultures of the organization; they become amazingly easy to implement and expand through growth.

Product or Customer-focused Purpose

This sort of purpose is considerably more delicate to get right. Using words like ‘the best’, ‘great service’, or ideals related to ‘customer experience’ are easy to claim, but very difficult to define, implement, monitor with any consistency. Thus, they often become petty lip-service that lacks any connection or inspiration.

Microsoft is a great example. Their mission reads: To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. It has essentially been the same since the day it was founded! This led to the creation of numerous programs to make it easier to navigate and harness the power of computers. Customers truly win by having such tools at their disposal.

It is interesting to think that the Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation is still living out that same purpose of helping people achieve more. Instead of using computers, they are focused on some of the most overlooked populations. Imagine what they can contribute to the world with core knowledge and without hassle of fighting diseases like malaria!

How It Works

Connecting sales with purpose brings out the humanity in the business. It helps to build connections with audiences and provides compelling reasons to feel good about the purchase. In highly competitive situations where price often seems like a major concern, a compelling purpose often wins them over better than a discount.

Unless 100% or your people (staff, team, associates, leaders, contractors, vendors, partners, etc.) know and can recite your purpose in their own language; it isn’t clear enough. We know some folks who can help you discover and communicate your purpose in ways that help drive sales! My purpose is to engage, create, and help organizations grow. Let’s start a conversation.